150 km south of Zanzibar Island lies the third largest isle in the archipelago, Mafia. In fact, Mafia Island is so far removed and has so many smaller satellites of its own, that it’s really a miniature archipelago in its own right. Rarely visited, and much quieter even than Pemba, Mafia and its surrounding islands are a diver’s paradise. Huge groupers, rays, turtles and whale sharks all frequent its warm, clear waters and Chole Bay is perhaps the best coral garden in East Africa. Accommodation around Mafia tends to be intimate and upmarket, and for the ultimate in exclusivity, stunning private island lodges are also available.
Highlights of the region
A diver’s paradise: If you have any love for diving, then a pilgrimage to Mafia must be on your bucket list. From Chole Bay’s extraordinary coral and fabulously colourful schools of reef fish, to the deeper waters where rays and whale fish roam; Mafia’s archipelago has something for every experience level, but the real wonder is that you’ll probably have it all to yourself!
Witness hatching turtles: Juani Island, just off the coast of Mafia, is a truly special place to see tiny green and hawksbill turtles dash for the sea. Environmentally sensitive tours can be arranged between June and September, run by an enthusiastic NGO that’s playing a significant role in local turtle conservation.
Practical advice about the region
Although local dhows run to the mainland, the only practical way to get to Mafia is to fly. Scheduled and charter flights run regularly from Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar Island and you should expect to pay around $250 to $350 return. If you’re going for diving, then pick your month carefully. Chole Bay can be dived year-round, but the deeper channels are only viable from August to November. October to February has the best visibility, although it’s rarely below 15m at any time of year. For the best beach conditions aim for late May to the start of the short rainy season in November. September to early March is prime whale shark season so it’s really only mid-March to mid-May that should be avoided completely, when the island receives most of its rain.